Some belated housekeeping to get out of the way, this being the first mailbag in a couple months.
An apology: To St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, for questioning why he saved Chris Carpenter for the first game of the playoffs instead of pitching him the final day of the season. It was the right move. The man ain't Copernicus, but he can manage some baseball.
A thank you: To readers who delight in pointing out errors. Yes, I realize a baseball's circumference is around 9 inches and not 9 centimeters. Not only have I disappointed my former science teachers, the math ones can't be proud, either.
A prediction: To those wondering when the pitching market was going to work itself out like the one making hitters very rich men, left-hander Randy Wolf could soon sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's the twist of the faucet handle that will taper into a flood come the winter meetings next week.
A call: To people with a keyboard to write e-mails. I read them all – intelligent ones, preferably, but dumb, profane and otherwise, too – and appreciate them all.
Enough of my words for now. From hereon, they'll be in italics.
INSTANT REPLAY ("Instant issue," Nov. 15, 2006)
Games should not be won or lost based on an umpire's wrong decision. That said, baseball needs to establish selective instant replay limiting those types of actions that are subject to review just like football.
If baseball selected just a handful of reviewable items, it would not slow down the game dramatically but would reduce the number of errors that cost a team victory, which should never happen.
Baseball is, unfortunately, all black and white. What is needs is a little gray.
If only we could find a palatable gray area. Replay discussion, no matter the sport, always sparks debate, and with baseball the last conscientious objector, the willingness of its general managers to even discuss the idea was the flint.
Unlike other sports, such as football and basketball, baseball plays continue when a replay might be needed. The major flaw comes with the original call on the field generally being unable to be reversed. You mention in your article "Why shouldn't they see if a ball hit down the line kicked up chalk and was fair?" Say a case comes up where the umpire rules the ball foul. Do players continue to play anyway because it might be reversed? Does the play end with the foul call? What happens if it is fair but play had been stopped?
Baseball is played in an entirely different way than football or basketball. When those plays are reviewed there isn't speculation. Either the receiver was out of bounds and the ball comes back to the original line of scrimmage or he wasn't and the play stands. The clock either runs out and the shot's no good, or it was truly a buzzer-beater. Baseball can't do that. Once a ruling of fair or foul is made, the play either continues or stops.
Replays are good for accuracy, but from a fan's perspective it takes some of the emotion out of games. Would Jimmy V. have run across the court when N.C. State won if that dunk off the airball needed to be reviewed?
I could not agree with you more on the idea of instant replay in baseball. I have been a baseball umpire for the past 27 years. The game is played by humans, coached by humans and officiated by humans.
They all make mistakes.
It's called "life."
Do we miss calls? Absolutely! But, when they happen, no one feels worse than we do. Any errors in judgment are that, mistakes. No one messes up on purpose. I wish folks could understand that.
How about a fifth umpire in the booth monitoring the games via the commercial TV coverage? If he sees a blatantly missed call, he communicates it to the crew chief. (Maybe turns on a little red light bulb or something.) Getting it RIGHT is really what matters, not that a few minutes might be added to a game.
As a Cardinals fan, I will always support instant replay after the '85 World Series debacle.
Isn't it more important to get it right in situations like that? The ball is fair or foul, the runner is safe or out, the ball was caught or not caught!
I'm not asking for replays on judgment calls (balls and strikes), but on plays where replay will help get it right.
It wasn't fair to the Cardinals or, more important, Don Denkinger and his family, that we could get a second look and he couldn't.
If Jack Clark and Darrell Porter hadn't let the Steve Balboni pop-up fall …
Just saying is all.
If replay was integrated into baseball and managers were given two challenges a game, it would not change the game. Give the crew chief 90 seconds to make a call. Simple as that.
This was probably the most frequently aired point of view, and it's nice in its simplicity. It's just not practically applicable, not unless baseball defines a strict set of rules for replay. In doing so, it would inevitably short sight parts of the field that are perhaps more important than the hot-button items (i.e. making foul poles reviewable and baselines not, even though balls kick chalk 50 times more often than they hit the pole). Speaking of …
Why not confine instant replay for baseball to: 1) the foul poles and 2) first base for runners on batted balls? Those are the two easiest places to set cameras up for and where it would be quick and easy to correct missed calls. Keep the managers out of it; have the replay be automatic and in the hands of a permanent official working with feeds from permanent cameras, so that getting the right feed from TV coverage isn't an issue. My alternate solution – permit teams/players to sue umpires for negligence when they blow a call. After all, why shouldn't lawyers get in on all that money that's flooding baseball?
So, who thinks Bill has his juris doctor?
Can you imagine the results if they polled all living Hall of Famers on this issue? What about current players? Chase Utley may have been a victim of bad timing, but how many times has he benefited from a blown call?
One of the most enduring principles of baseball's past is its imperfection.
The Black Sox, steroids, segregation, the reserve clause to name a few blemishes. Not to mention sexism, which you addressed earlier this season. The game is flawed. Cheating is not only allowed, it is often celebrated. If Kenny Rogers had not had a dirty hand, would anyone remember this World Series in five years, much less 20? Blown calls are a part of the game and sometimes create some of the more enduring memories. Blown calls give us something beyond the statistics and players that add to the experience of baseball.
I don't understand why anyone would want to eliminate all blown calls. It would take away from the game.
Instant replay is about getting the right result so that the team who deserves to win in fact does. We live in a society where we have the technology that allows us to collect the knowledge about whether things are true or not. Why deny ourselves the ability to get things right in return for a false outcome that ruins the game for the players, owners and most importantly the fans. People invest way too much money and time into baseball to see an incorrect call blow their chances at the World Series title. As a fan, I'd rather sit and wait (heck, that's what we do during a game) to ensure that a bad call is overturned.
Hermosa Beach, Calif.
CUBS ("Is a Cubs title in the cards?," Nov. 20, 2006)
Typical Cubs hater.
Do you have anything more to say during your 15 minutes?
So I get 15? Nice. OK, here goes.
I live in Chicago. I went to quite a few games at Wrigley Field last season, and the Cubs won, if memory serves, all of one – opening day, when Greg Maddux was brilliant in a swirling wind. What kind of masochist delights in watching bad baseball? I'd love to see the Cubs succeed, if only because I know what kind of city Chicago morphs into when they do.
Any Cubs fan who does not worry about their pitching – the rotation, middle relief and back end of the bullpen – is lying to himself. Which, come to think of it, is what everybody in Wrigleyville does every year, anyway, so I guess this was to be expected.
Alfonso Soriano is a fine player. Too bad he can't pitch.
At least someone in the Cubs front office is finally making some kind of moves toward the future of the franchise. Yes, money does not automatically make you a World Series contender. However, it's a breath of fresh air for Cubs fans to finally see the organization do something that will better this team.
It's something. That is true.
Whether it's good is debatable. The Cubs' payroll could climb to nearly $130 million if they sign another pitcher and left fielder, and even if the Tribune Co. sells off its pieces, the revenue base simply isn't there to raise it significantly higher.
And that's what scares me about this deal: Carlos Zambrano, one of the best pitchers in baseball and Chicago's lone reliable starter, is a free agent next season, and the thought of the Cubs raising their payroll to $150 million – Zambrano should get Barry Zito money, if not more – does not seem feasible.
SALARIES ("Baseball's mad new world," Nov. 14, 2006)
Why do baseball GMs insist on hurting the game? Haven't they learned from the Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez contracts that it doesn't pay to overpay? All the Cubs did this week is add one more nail to baseball's coffin. They are heading toward a terrible time in baseball history where the common man or blue-collar worker can't go out and see a game. Baseball is not basketball where you have 41 home games and only 16,000 seats to sell and a product that people want to see. It's also not football where you only have eight home games, a week-long buildup and rabid fans who crave flame-scorched meat each Sunday cooked on an open fire in the middle of a parking lot.
Baseball has to rediscover its fan base, and that fan base is being priced out of existence. By paying these players outrageous sums of money, these fiscally irresponsible GMs (see Minaya, Cashman and Hendry) are causing a major imbalance in the game financially.
It's not the GMs' fault their owners want to spend money. For a group of brilliant businessmen, baseball owners act an awful lot like 8-year-old kids on allowance day. Mom keeps intoning, "Money won't burn a hole in your pocket," and the kids still go out and buy the sweetest candy they can find. That's all free agency is anyway, right? Players are the treat and owners are the people who just can't help themselves.
I just want to know why everyone is saying Matsuzaka is the next $25 million man when he will only get a contract for about $12.5 million, to quote you. He is not going to see any of the $51.1 million. Zero. It's like in professional soccer. They call it a transfer fee. It doesn't go against the cap, the luxury tax doesn't come into play. Who knows, maybe John Henry just paid it from his own personal account. My point is that it doesn't matter, and I truly believe it won't have any effect on the rest of the market. So what's the fuss?
Santa Barbara, Calif.
This isn't about what Matsuzaka himself receives. It is about what the Red Sox were willing to give to get him. If Boston does sign Matsuzaka, his Japanese team, Seibu, will receive the $51.1 million posting fee. With the Red Sox angling for a longer-term deal at $8 million a year, and agent Scott Boras preferring a shorter deal at $15 million per year, they'll likely meet in the middle, meaning the Red Sox could pay $100 million, total, for four seasons of Matsuzaka. No matter how much he gets personally, Matsuzaka will be held to the standard of an A-Rod.
Funny thing is, the Matsuzaka deal actually seems reasonable compared to the money snagged by a one-year wonder headed toward the downside of his career (Gary Matthews Jr., five years, $50 million), a one-sided player whose side could any second dissipate (Juan Pierre, five years, $45 million) and every contract the Baltimore Orioles seem willing to give (Danys Baez, three years, $19 million; Jamie Walker, three years, $12 million).
I'm old enough now to have experienced the same "this is over the top money" several times. Just when one thinks the money has hit the top, in retrospect every time, it will be dwarfed by a future deal. So, I'm certain the same will apply here.
In reality, the money does affect my love of the game. But it has for decades now. Where I grew up playing pickup baseball at the park and looking up to Carl Yastrzemski as a sports god, my son played very little baseball before giving it up for two-season soccer. Little League baseball is now a distant competitor for the attention of a generation of Americans. Additionally, as kids, we went to major league games … scoring some unwanted box seats from a friend's father or just buying some $2 bleacher seats with our allowance money. Today, my family has been to five games in the last 12 years.
Yeah, it's the money. For me, when a man appears to play only for money and not for pride and team, I can't find the passion that makes being a fan so fulfilling.
Do the Red Sox realize how many proven major league pitchers they could have signed for $51 million?
Actually, even though it seems you're making an anti-Matsuzaka point, Tom, I think this speaks more to why this isn't an awful deal. Would a team rather have four years of Daisuke Matsuzaka or four years of Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver? Because the combined cost of the latters' contracts will be around the same as Matsuzaka's contract and posting fee, and of five personnel men I asked, all of them chose Matsuzaka.
HUMIDOR ("Baseball's expanding issue," Nov. 16, 2006)
Just some information on humidity testing – sounded like you were just using the cigar store as sort of a catch to start and end your column, but thought you might be interested to know that an hour, though it might produce some small effect, would not really be long enough for significant water absorption unless it were completely immersed.
In the plastics industry, for example, we use a 24-hour exposure as one type of standard test to measure uptake of moisture, and another version of the test goes out to seven days. For the material to be close to equilibrium, a week is probably the safer bet. So it's not just the conditions but the length of time in the humidor would possibly affect the ball's performance.
So now I need to defend myself for kicking back with a nice cigar? Thanks, Paul.
Though guilty as charged, I figured an hour would do nothing. A day or two wouldn't have, either. Reader Michael Leviton asked if I could conduct a true experiment. If a scientist in Denver has the facilities, I'd be happy to provide the balls, take the measurements and independently verify just how well a humidor does work.
GYROBALL ("Searching for baseball's Bigfoot," March 13, 2006)
Just read your gyroball article of last march. If it's still something you're interested in, you should look at Shane Warne, a cricketer who bowls leg spin for Australia. His aim is to impart as much side spin on the ball as possible so it spins from right to left of the pitch. This also means it moves left to right and dips down through the air. Sounds very much like the action and result of a gyroball.
After watching this video, I'm just wondering what's up with Warne's lips. Is he the Aussie A-Rod?
Seriously, good call by Jeremy. Now, the gyroball is supposed to travel in the 80s, instead of fluttering between 45 and 55 mph like when Warne bowls. The desired action, however, is very similar.
There was once a hurler who could breathe through his eyelids and throw the gyro. His name was Sidd Finch.
You know, the more I think I know about the gyroball, the less I actually do.
Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, the American godfather of the pitch, came out with a story about two weeks ago that claimed there are numerous types of gyroballs; the one Carroll tries to teach, he said, is the "gyroball with side force," and it's supposed to tilt a few feet away from a right-hander. The regular gyroball, he explains, actually drops like an otherworldly sinker – which may very well be Matsuzaka's shuuto, a special Japanese pitch itself.
Really, I just think Herman's mad the Yankees or Mets lost on the bidding.